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Paul Allen Commits $100M for New Foundation to Advance Biology Research

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen today announced a commitment of $100 million to launch the eponymous Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a foundation whose purpose is to advance biological research and knowledge.

In a ceremony held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC, the Frontiers Group announced grants of $1.5 million for each of the first four projects and their investigators — the University of California, San Diego's Ethan Bier; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's James Collins; UC Berkeley's Jennifer Doudna; and the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière's (Brain and Spine Institute) Bassem Hassan. 

Bier will use active genetics to produce large genetic modifications to uncover design principles that cause large-scale morphological changes across species. Collins will use a synthetic biology approach to engineer bacteria that could eradicate methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Doudna will explore additional systems to target nucleic acids in microbes, specifically looking at archaea for programmable RNA-targeting proteins. And Hassan will look into the processes that govern neural wiring in embryonic development, which may ultimately lead to behavioral variability.

In addition, the Frontiers Group announced new Discovery Centers named for Allen at Stanford University and Tufts University, awarding $20 million to each. Each host institution will contribute an additional $10 million.

Stanford's Markus Covert will lead a Discovery Center looking to create multiscale computer models of macrophage infection. His team includes researchers from Stanford and the University of Virginia, as well as ex-Google employees. The Discovery Center at Tufts will seek to understand the "biological code that determines anatomical structure and function during embryogenesis, regeneration, and tumor suppression," said Tufts investigator Michael Levin in a statement.

Additional Allen Discovery Centers and Allen Distinguished Investigators will be identified and named via both curation and open competitions periodically throughout a ten-year period, the Frontiers Group added.

"Over the next 50 years bioscience will undergo a radical transformation as advancements in life sciences converge with mathematics, physical sciences, and engineering," Frontiers Executive Director Tom Skalak said in the statement. "The time is now to make this type of transformative investment in bioscience to advance the field."

Allen has recently funded several similar initiatives. Last fall, the Paul G. Allen Ebola program announced three grants totaling $6.9 million to fund development of new diagnostic tools as part of a larger $11 million program targeting Ebola virus.